To be clear, I have no love for anyone connected with Al Qaeda. If they all dropped into a black hole tomorrow I would rest easy. But I must confess I have been left very unsettled by the White House’s approval of the assassination of a U.S. citizen, one Anwar Al-Awlaki.
Various reports have indicated that the White House received a legal opinion approving the killing. Opponents of the killing have pointed out that there are some serious Constitutional issues at stake. I suppose that I look at it in simple terms.
A U.S. citizen is accused — but not formally charged — with being connected with a terrorist organization. They are living outside of the USA. The U.S. claims that it has intelligence data supporting their allegation. They then go about eliminating this individual.
You need to step back from your feelings about Al Qaeda and your memories of 11 September. Instead, you need to think about what doors are now open to the government. If Al-Awlaki was connected with Al Qaeda — and I am prepared to believe that he was — why was there no formal charge against him? Why not indict him?
Let’s go to the next point. If Al-Awlaki was not to be indicted, why does anyone else need to be indicted in the future? Think about it for a moment. If there was no indictment against a U.S. citizen, are we left with execution-based-on-allegations? Can the government decide one day on the basis of whatever information, reliable or unreliable, that an individual is connected with a terrorist organization and then…bang? Does this mean, for instance, that someone who might be doing human rights work in Palestine who is alleged by persons unknown, to be connected with Hamas is now subject to being whacked?
This is more than a slippery slope. In the name of fighting terrorism a door has been opened. This is a door into a house of horrors that may be very difficult to shut. One can understand and share the hatred that is felt against someone, Al-Awlaki, who would knowingly kill or support the killing of civilians. Yet as citizens, we are supposed to have rights and not be tried, let alone executed, based on secret or semi-secret allegations. After all, the allegations may be based on anything including payback, revenge, mischievousness, or personal gain. Is that the basis upon which we want to accept extra-judicial, formally approved, executions?
Bill Fletcher Jr. is a senior scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the co-author of “Solidarity Divided.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.